For Harley-Davidson riders, there are few things as joyous as a trip to the Harley-Davidson Museum. The museum is probably the largest archive of Harley-Davidson’s 110+ years of existence. It’s an entire building filled with thousands of motorcycles and other historic artifacts, with the purpose of cataloging the brand’s incredible history. Even if you think you know everything about Harley-Davidson, we guarantee there’s something here you didn’t know.
We took a ride out to the museum while in Milwaukee celebrating Harley-Davidson’s 115th Anniversary with Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum to take a look around. Here are the 8 coolest motorcycles we saw.
Harley-Davidson Customized Pit Bike/Topper Scooter
There was a period in the early-to-mid-’60s when Harley-Davidson was in the scooter makin’ business. The brand’s not-so-famous “Topper” was a 164 cc two-stroke scooter that, for all intents and purposes, didn’t suck. The one that we saw in the museum, however, is even more special because it’s one of very, very few toppers that the motor company converted into pit bikes to bring out to races.
The Harley-Davidson Nova came at a very weird time in Harley’s history. It was a collaboration between Porsche and Harley that came at the tail end of the AMF era. The project featured a top-secret overhead-cam V4 liquid-cooled motor. This was a revolutionary setup for the bike. Harley never actually released the Nova, and only 12 prototypes were ever built. In fact, the bike is so mysterious that it’s rumored the one on display in the museum is actually just a replica of one of the originals.
Deep in the heart of the museum is the “Restricted Area.” Accessible to a rare few visitors, this place is filled with hundreds of bikes that represent different eras of Harley design and innovation. Tucked away on one of the many shelves in the restricted area are several of Harley’s famous VR1000 racing motorcycles. These badass scooters came with completely custom 1000 cc four-stroke motors that would produce 135 horsepower at 10,000 rpm. The bikes performed incredibly well on the track and worked well for what Harley had intended them for (competing with Ducati), but ultimately, the project was considered a failure, and the bikes were taken off the road—and stored here.
1912 Model X-8-A Atmospheric-Valve Single
We love the old Harley boardtrack-style bikes, and the 1912 Model X-8-A is one of our favorites because it’s not only incredibly rare, but also features a peculiar belt-drive setup that really demonstrates just how little power these bikes used to make. The belt itself features no grooves or textures to keep traction, and the massive rear hub is there to help transfer what little power the bike made to the rear wheels. Harley only made 4,000 bikes in 1912, and it’s hard to determine how many of them were X-8-A’s.
1941 Harley Davidson FL 74 “King Kong”
You’ve probably never heard of Felix Predko. He was a genius and a mechanic, and if you’ve seen his bike, affectionately known as “King Kong,” you’ll see that he was also an artist. This bike was built over 4,000 hours, and damn near every single thing on it was custom made by Predko—including the dual knucklehead setup powering the whole thing. Predko was way ahead of his time, and King Kong is one of those machines that has left an indelible mark on the world. At the very lease, it’s one of the craziest custom bikes anyone has ever seen.
Replica Easy Rider “Captain America” Panhead Chopper
When it comes to classic motorcycle movies, Easy Rider reigns supreme. Those iconic scenes featuring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, two hippie drug dealers, cruising down the highways on their custom Harley choppers, have been ingrained into the American fabric since the movie was first released almost 50 years ago. And Peter Fonda’s “Captain America” Panhead chopper is one of the most recognizable and highly recreated bikes of all time. It was a surreal experience walking through the museum and seeing this picture-perfect replica smack-dab in the middle. And yes, it’s a replica. The real Captain America bike was sold at auction for a cool $1.35 million a few years ago, and even then, its authenticity is highly debated.
Harley Tsunami Motorcycle
Perhaps the most interesting and profound piece in the museum, this bike, in a former life, was a standard Harley Night Train. However, on March 11, 2011, it was washed away in a storage container after the devastating Tsunami that struck Japan. The bike floated a whole 4,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, washing up on the shores of British Columbia a couple months later. The original owner—Ikuo Yokoyama—was tracked down, and per his request, the bike has remained in the museum ever since, as both a testament to the resilience of these motorcycles, and as a memorial to the natural disaster that claimed 15,000 lives.
Harley Serial 1
This is allegedly the first Harley-Davidson ever made. We say “allegedly” because it’s actually kind of a mystery. It doesn’t match any of what we know about Harley’s first engines, and the frame, which dates back to 1905, is not original to this particular motorcycle. Yet, after it was found in the 1990s, restorers discovered a number “1” stamped inside several of the bike’s components. The only thing we really know for sure is that this is, without a doubt, the oldest Harley-Davidson in the world.